Saturday, May 21, 2016
May 22, Feast of the Holy Trinity: God Is Too Much for One
Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-15
At the risk of sounding disrespectful, or as my grandmother would say “spotten,” let me say this: From Easter through Pentecost we took God apart and now on Trinity Sunday we put God back together.
On Easter, when Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples finally recognized him as their Lord and God, no less God than the Father is God, and yet a separate person than the Father. So on Easter all of a sudden we had two persons in One God.
Then on Pentecost God opened up again as the Holy Spirit, coming down upon God’s people. This Spirit was not just an energy, but also a person. So by Pentecost we now had three persons. Yes, the Easter Season tells the story of God opening up God’s self as three persons. In the Easter we acknowledge the glory of this Trinity, today, the first Sunday afterward, we worship the Unity.
Christians love this doctrine of the Trinity. For us it’s the foundation of saying that "God is love." The love of God is not some impersonal force, but something very personal, it’s the love of God the Father for God the Son, and the love of God the Son for God the Father, and the love of both of them for the Spirit, and the love of the Spirt for the both of them, and that love circles and rises up and overflows into the world and even onto us. That’s what we mean by God is love.
And God is joy. These three persons eternally enjoy each other. This inner joy of God was described by ancient theologians as the dance of God, perichoresis is the word—that these three persons dance with each other eternally and joyfully, moving between each other in and out, and they share their mutual joy with us, and with the birds and trees and galaxies.
Well, all of that is lovely, but, really, how can this be? The contradiction is obvious. How can you claim three persons and still have One God? How could Jesus talk as he did in our gospel lesson, of three different persons, the person of the Father and the person of the Spirit along with his own person, and yet still have confessed that most ancient creed in the Bible, “Sh’ma Yisroel, Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad,” Hear O Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is One? How could his disciples and apostles continue to worship the same God as Abraham and Moses, and yet speak of three persons?
We call it a mystery. Is that a dodge? Or can a mystery be also a reality, like the mysteries of modern physics, which we recognize as real, and yet beyond the capacity of our logic to unravel their apparent contradictions.
Our confession of the Trinity has had its costs. The worst cost is the tragic division between the Christians and the Jews, between the adopted children of Abraham and the natural children of Abraham who are the very relatives of God the Son. We Christians have made this division so horrible that if Jesus had lived later on in Europe, he would have been killed in a pogrom or the holocaust, and baptized Christians would have killed him. To be anti-Semitic is to be anti-Christ.
We Jews and Christians have been bound together by God. We both love the very same Adonai Eloheinu, and yet we tell conflicting stories of this one God we both love. You know, my brother and I tell conflicting stories about my dad. Family fights are the worst fights, but we are family. We are the family of Abraham, Jews by birth and Christians by adoption. Baptism is always an adoption, it’s being born again. When we are baptized we are adopted into that one great family that walked through the Red Sea with dry feet.
The family of God is not what you’d call a traditional family—we have two religions within it and we’re in it both by birth and by adoption. Every baptism proclaims a godly unity that witnesses against the conflicts and contradictions. Every baptism demands us to hold these things by faith, and not divide what God has brought together. And that’s what we’re doing here today.
Now I should say that the doctrine of the Trinity is not absolutely illogical. It is not nonsensical. Here is how: we all agree that God is not confined to time and space. God is free from the laws of time and space, and God can be anywhere God wants at any time, and in more than one place at the same time. God is free within the laws of time and space because God created time and space and has authority over them. The same is true of logic and mathematics. God created logic and mathematics, and God has authority over logic and mathematics and also freedom within them.
So the mathematical number “one” is not more powerful than God, as if while being true of God it can confine God. God can be One and yet also be something that does not seem like One to our smaller minds. God can be One and seemingly not One at the same time. God has given logic to us as a gift for our understanding, but logic cannot limit God, or it would be God’s prison. The one-ness of God is not controlled by the one-ness of other things in mathematics or logic.
Now this is not a proof of the Trinity, it cannot be proven, but it is to say that it is not nonsensical or even completely illogical. The point of it is that God is always free to be what only God can be, and yet God is always faithful to what God has been. God is the One, and God is the One you can count on. God is free and God is faithful. The Lord our God, the Lord is One!
This freedom and faithfulness of God with us is what we claim in Christian baptism, and we will claim it again today when we baptize two little children, Eitan and Nadav. We will pronounce their names and then pronounce the names of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The names denote the actors involved, because baptism is something we do and we can see, but it is even more something God does, invisibly, free from our sense perception. God is free and able within time and space to be faithful and gracious to these two little boys throughout their lives.
“We are baptized in the name of the Father because God the Father witnesses and seals to us that God makes an eternal covenant of grace with us, and adopts us for his children and heirs, and therefore will provide us with every good thing, and avert all evil or turn it to our profit.” (Gereformeerde Doopformulier.) Here is God as the God of Abraham, making covenant, saying secretly to the souls of these boys, “I will be your God, and you will be my children.”
“We are baptized in the name of the Son because God the Son witnesses and seals to us that he washes us in his blood from all our sins, incorporating us into the fellowship of his death and resurrection, so that we are freed from all our sins and accounted as righteous before God.” Here the Lord Jesus becomes for us the high priest of Israel, making today a Yom Kippur, a Day of Atonement, in which we are freed from all our sins by his own loving sacrifice.
“We are baptized in the name of the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit assures us, by means of this holy Sacrament, that God will dwell in us, and sanctify us to be members of Christ, applying to us all that we have in the Messiah, the washing away of all our sins and the daily renewing of our lives, till we shall finally be presented without spot or wrinkle among the assembly of God’s chosen people in life eternal.” Here the Holy Spirit is the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night who leads us through the Red Sea with dry feet and who faithfully journeys with us through the wilderness until we reach the Promised Land.
Such great promises, and such a simple, little sacrament! How can we hold it all in? Just as we have One God, with a Oneness too great for our ideas, a God who is so rich and so complex with inner life—small enough to come inside these baby boys and great enough to surround the universe and hold it like a mother in her bosom. One God, but not compact like a pebble, or a diamond, or a perfect stone, but like a heart, a beating heart, with space inside, and movement inside, and tender enough for suffering.
So we boast in God’s suffering, because God’s suffering proves God’s endurance, and God’s endurance proves God’s character, and God’s character give us hope, and that "hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured from God’s heart into your hearts through the Holy Spirit" who gives God’s self to you.
Copyright © 2016, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.